What Is DevOps? A Beginner's Guide to This Fast-Growing Approach

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Anyone following the tech industry has likely seen the term “DevOps” more than a few times. Like wildfire, this buzzword-y methodology has spread throughout the tech industry at a dizzying pace as companies scramble to adopt the approach.

If you’re trying to catch up with all the hype and excitement, you probably have some questions that need answers: What is DevOps? What does it have to do with technology, and why does it seem to be on every major corporation’s radar?

If you could use a little more clarification on what DevOps means, read on! We will illuminate the basics to help you understand the hype.

What is DevOps?

The first thing to understand about DevOps is that it began as a way to reorganize the process of creating and releasing software. Before DevOps, a company making software likely had a team of developers and a separate IT or operations team. These two groups worked separately, usually under different leadership with differing goals and even competing objectives and standards of evaluation, according to Atlassian.1

As you can imagine, this often caused problems—sometimes major problems. Professionals in development and IT grew frustrated with redundant communication issues, unnecessary conflicts and inefficient timelines that still produced problematic, buggy software. According to Atlassian, teams initially started brainstorming on online forums for a better approach. From there, thought leaders naturally emerged, and the concept of DevOps was born!

DevOps, a term mashing the terms “development” and “operations” together, quite literally mashes software development and operations teams together. Instead of working on one long timeline where certain teams hand off their work, like a baton, to the next team, DevOps teams work in unison, planning, executing tasks, monitoring and cycling through quality checks constantly.

Why is DevOps so popular?

DevOps methodology in software development aims to boost efficiency and quality, while also allowing faster, more scalable workflows. The cross-disciplinary nature does mean that professionals have to spend more time meeting, collaborating and working on phases of the software lifecycle. However, that proactive investment can be a huge time-saver in the long run.

Atlassian’s 2020 DevOps survey reported that 61 percent of 500 respondents experienced higher quality deliverables through DevOps.2 Integrating skilled quality assurance analysts into the project lifecycle means they can flag and deal with small errors before they snowball into bigger problems.

The other massive factor is speed. Large companies now release hundreds of software deployments per day. DevOps allows software processes to continually cycle, so security patches, fixes, updates and new releases can all fit into the daily workflow of the necessary professionals.

What are the drawbacks of DevOps?

DevOps, when done well, has few drawbacks. But many companies struggle to adopt the intensive changes to traditional structure that DevOps requires. You can’t just hire some DevOps people, make a DevOps team and call it done. The process requires training, a lot of commitment and often a complete restructuring of company operations.

99 percent of respondents in Atlassian’s survey saw positive impacts on their company from DevOps, but 85 percent have also faced major barriers to implementing the process.2 Over half of those barriers connect to the difficult adjustment that organizations have in changing their framework, norms and infrastructure.2

Finding employees with the right skill sets can also be challenging. Given the previously siloed nature of development and operations teams, there can be a knowledge gap between the disciplines that can be challenging to bridge. While tech professionals are adapting their skill sets to better fit the approach, there’s a learning curve.

What are the pillars of DevOps?

While not uniformly defined, industry leaders outline anything from three to nine pillars of DevOps usage, leadership and best practices. But if you dig into some DevOps research, you will likely encounter principles of collaboration (or cross-disciplinary work), automation, quality assurance (QA), cloud-computing and metrics.

These five factors show up pretty consistently in the DevOps philosophy because they solve some essential problems in the software development lifecycle. The platform engineering company Deloitte explains some of these DevOps basics:3

Collaboration

Collaboration embodies the idea that developers and operations professionals, really anyone working on building, testing or releasing software, should work together, be in the same meetings and under the same leadership structure.

Automation

There are so many things to keep an eye on in software development. Figure out how to automate any mundane, repeatable tasks to reduce human error and you save your people time to focus on the work only they can do.

Cloud-computing

DevOps doesn’t have to involve cloud computing, but it does work really well together. When you think of the continuous collaborative process that happens in these workflows, burdening teams with on-site servers and requiring them to download files, send on, re-download, send back and so on just doesn’t make as much sense. Working in the cloud allows the real-time collaboration that DevOps thrives on.

Check out A Beginner’s Guide to the Benefits of Cloud Computing for a bit more on how this works.

Monitoring and quality assurance

Don’t wait until the figurative rough draft is finished to start looking for issues. Get the proofreaders, bug catchers and testers involved right away in the planning phase and keep them around the whole time to help keep the development and deployment process run as smoothly as possible.

Metrics

Assume that you can improve your own workflow, teams and customer interactions in the same way that you are continually improving your software. Collect useful data and constantly evaluate consumer satisfaction, team morale, timelines and every aspect of your performance to identify areas of improvement.

Who works in DevOps?

Given that this approach sits at the intersection of many well-established IT disciplines, you will find several roles that can fit under a DevOps umbrella. There’s software developers and engineers, quality assurance analysts, systems administrators and a host of folks with specialized skill sets blurring the lines between them all.

Interested in learning more about some of the key players in the software development lifecycle? Our articles “What Does a Software Developer Do? A Deep Dive into the Career” and “What Does a QA Analyst Do? Testing Out This Tech Career” will help set the stage.

1Ian Buchanan, “History of DevOps” Atlassian. [accessed October, 2021] https://www.atlassian.com/devops/what-is-devops/history-of-devops
2Atlassian & CITE Research, “Atlassian DevOps Trends Survey 2020” [accessed October, 2021] https://www.atlassian.com/whitepapers/devops-survey-2020
3Dylan Lerch, “6 Key Pillars of a Successful DevOps Strategy” Deloitte. August 7, 2018. [accessed October 2021] https://platform.deloitte.com.au/articles/6-key-pillars-of-a-successful-devops-strategy

Brianna Flavin

Brianna is a content writer for Collegis Education who writes student focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen University. She earned her MFA in poetry and teaches as an adjunct English instructor. She loves to write, teach and talk about the power of effective communication.

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